45-year-old Rajesh feels proud about sending his daughter to Delhi for her college education. Living in a village that is undergoing urbanization, very few people send their daughters to study outside in a big city, like Delhi. Rajesh has provided all the opportunities to his daughter Ananya that he was able to provide. He treats Ananya the same way he treats his son, Anmay. Ananya is studying in the first year of her college and nowadays, reading about patriarchy. While she was trying to make sense of if her brother and father discriminate against her or not, she witnessed something shocking, and horrible. One day, she found that her father has beaten her mother because she tried to convince him that they should get their daughter married after her graduation. While her mother was trying to inhibit Ananya’s education and career plans, his father wanted to give Ananya all the freedom and considered himself progressive. Is he progressive even if he beats his wife? Is he a misogynist even if he advocates all the freedom for his daughter?
Ajay is Ananya’s classmate. Girls in Ananya’s class find he is differently uncomfortable than other boys. Where other boys bring up their male ego every single day in some passive argument, Ajay is extra humble to them. They find Ajay to be a good person, but one can easily tell the difference between when he talks to a girl and when he talks to a boy. Even if it feels good to be treated well, somewhere deep down the girls realise it’s a kind of discrimination.
But Ajay, what he realises, is afraid inside. Not afraid of social interaction or girls, but he is afraid of himself. He fears that his actions might reflect the patriarchal signs, the dominance, which was inherently a part of his growing up years in a small town. In this way, he fails to realise that he is being more humble than he wanted to become. He is unable to contemplate that he is discriminating, this time in a different benevolent manner.
There is this famous quote which is often attributed to one of the known personalities including Marshall McLuhan, Winston Churchill, and John Culkin, “We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.”
Patriarchy too fits this definition. Patriarchy, now dissolved in each drop of our blood, is a tool that was created to subordinate women. No matter what political explanation critics of feminism try to come up with, this fact cannot be overlooked that violation of natural rights of women was one of the prime purposes behind the creation of this tool.
The tool which has been integrated into our collective existence, and shaped our social reality into painting a horrible picture of society. Day by day as we encounter women speaking up about their experiences, this picture becomes darker. The question that stands with all the force is, is there a way we can destroy this tool?
There is another question that comes up when one tries to look into the possibilities of elimination of patriarchy. Considering a hypothetical situation, if we become able to instantly change the belief systems of every single human and we change them all into believing that all the men and women are equal, will the patriarchy cease to exist from that very moment?
Even if this hypothetical situation comes true, the answer will be a strong no, I believe. Patriarchy, when created, was based on the belief that men are superior to women. But it is now a stand-alone social fact in itself. It is shaping our social reality and will continue to shape it, maybe with a bit lesser strength in absence of its founding belief. The tool, being integrated into our brains and collective existence, has trained our being, our sense of the world, the stories we hear and tell about the world, the dreams we see. No wonder why the new generation working in big cities and considering themselves progressive, return to their patriarchal homes, find the idea of feminism too discomforting, even for themselves. You can easily find examples of engineers, who work in developed societies like California and New York City but when they return to their homes, which are semi-urban developing societies in India, do not feel the need of raising a single question against the patriarchy that is dissolved in the atmosphere of their own family.
Ajay, in the example above, is aware of patriarchy and wants to change his thought process to get rid of it, and in this process, he shifts to some different kind of discrimination. This is what patriarchy does to men, who want to change themselves. If you no longer want to be an oppressor, you go against your training. I am not saying that it is not possible to eliminate patriarchy from our minds, but it can be so much harder in a vicious patriarchal society like India.
Ajay, on the other hand, fights himself in trying to track his efforts as the girls around him may not be completely aware of what he is going through even if he tries to explain it to them. And in Indian society, even questioning the notions of masculinity and femininity can make your life miserable by landing you on a terrain of loneliness waiting for the society to grow a collective consciousness.
The debate on feminism is often distorted in India, as you can find people who clearly say – ‘I’m not a feminist.’ Calling even not-so-feminists feminazis and considering them horrible persons is a notion borrowed from the west, but feeling an urge to insult them is one of the new manifestations of this mighty tool called patriarchy. At a time when social media pages creating a counter-narrative against feminism and promoting ‘meninism’ are getting popular, it becomes crucial to understand that gender discrimination is the product of the same patriarchy which is working in different ways.
Men, who as fathers hate to see themselves putting restrictions on their daughters, are deeply afraid of the society that they created for themselves. Men, who as lovers want to express themselves differently in love, do not like the way their expressions are compared to the established notions of masculinity. Even in an educated Indian society, they are unable to create an atmosphere, which provides women with the same space that it provides to men.
The point for men is to realise that if you don’t like seeing women prejudiced against you, you need to wage a war against patriarchy. And, since your gender is on the side of the powerful, the biggest fight you need to fight is against yourself.
The most important thing at the beginning of this fight is the acceptance. Men need to accept that they are the oppressors and whether they see it or not, they are continuously reinforcing patriarchy. They need to rigorously question themselves. When Bengaluru mass molestation happened, a hashtag was trending on Twitter – #NotAllMen. This incident was a product of the misogyny we carry as a society. Men need to come to the front and accept that even if molesters were some criminals, it is them who run this society. They need to realize that it is all women who face harassment and yes, it is all men who are either harassers or support harassment by not fighting against it and giving safety manuals to women. It’s them who consider women as an object. The thing is in the head and no one is ready to try hard to change it.
As Supriya Nair puts it, “It’s not enough to mourn for rape victims post-facto as India’s daughters; it’s more important to accept the fact that the rapists are India’s sons.”
Men need to accept that it is them who are at the centre of patriarchy. Men have the power patriarchy provides them and they need to lose it.
Roxane Gay, an associate professor at Purdue University, calls for action, “It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”
If men choose to begin the fight against their patriarchal self, they need to test their evolution continuously at each step, which is not possible until they accept the authority of the highest ethical values. Until they become completely open to discussion and share their ill-beliefs to be busted, until they ask women about the wrong they find in their behaviour, and they discuss with other men to create a collective consciousness in day-to-day life, this fight is not possible to win.
Men will suffer or are suffering when they go through this process. This suffering is very important and valuable. It will provide them with the idea of how much women suffer in the system they make them live in. This suffering will not make men able to ask women if they are even or not, but this is the very first step of this battle.
Men need to show that they care about women and they are ready to fix this society. It will be then, that we will realise the time has come for women and men to create an equal, just, and better society. Together.